Accompanying a drunk man from “coupin’ gless for gless” to silence – An es-say in translating Hugh MacDiarmid


  • Bill Boyd Southern Cross University



Hugh MacDiarmid, Scots language, Caledonian antisyzygy, translation as repurposing, translations as reworking


This essay explores possibilities for translating the Scots language poetry of 20th cenury poet, Hugh MacDiarmid. Mirroring MacDiarmid’s propensity to draw on and recontextualise other sources of poetry and to create new poetic language, the essay illustrates options of translation as (i) repurposing the ideas of the poem, and (ii) reworking events associated with the poem. Two examples are contextualised in an overview of MacDiarmid’s prolific and intellectual Scots and English language poetry. MacDiarmid drew on both languages to create what he called synthetic Scots and synthetic English. This allowed him to explore Scottish cultural, social and political identity, in part to promote Scottish independence and autonomy, and in part to stimulate a new Scottish intellectual and literary tradition. His work typified what is known as Caledonian antisyzygy. Antisyzygy allows for borrowing, appropriation, reworking and decontextualisation of language, ideas and other writers’ work. The essay describes my own appropriation of one poem, On a Raised Beach, to inform a discussion of future education (translation as repurposing). It closes on a contemporary retelling of the construction of the book-length poem, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (translation as reworking).

Author Biography

Bill Boyd, Southern Cross University

Bill Boyd an Emeritus Professor at Southern Cross University and former Professor of Geography. He is a geographer with scholarly interests in environmental change, human-landscape relationships, cultural studies and higher education. He has taught, researched and published widely in these fields. Holding doctorates from the Universities of Glasgow and St Andrews, Scotland, he is a Life Fellow of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, a Visiting Professor at the Centre for Australian and Transnational Studies, University of Barcelona, and a Visiting Professor in the School of Education, Glasgow University.